News

Actions

Renters said landlords failed to tell them about potentially dangerous sinkholes in their complex

Law says landlords must disclose if in their unit
Posted at 11:28 PM, Dec 05, 2016

It's one of Floridians' worst nightmares... A sinkhole near your home.

But what if your landlord knew about it and didn't tell you before you signed a lease?

Several local renters say that’s exactly what happened to them.  

“The floors started dipping. it was pretty bad because it was right where my kids' beds were,” said Keith Sanders, who rented in apartment at the Manhattan Palms Condominium in West Tampa.

“I worry a lot, because you don't know,” said Diana Frias, who also rents a unit at the complex.

The condo's property management company sent a letter to owners describing "confirmed active sinkholes throughout the property" that "have been determined to be affecting the entire property".

But records from the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office show about 80 percent of the units are filled with renters, not owners.   

“The landlord didn't tell nobody. Nobody knows nothing,” said Joshua Rosario, who rented a unit in the complex.

When we visited the complex came to talk to renters, the management company told us to leave and referred us to their law firm.

We reached out to their attorney multiple times, but he didn't call us back.

The homeowner's association learned about the sinkholes more than five years ago.

The HOA even filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against its insurance company, which refused to pay all the estimated repair costs.

The renters we spoke to moved in after the lawsuit was filed.

“That's something they should have told us before we moved in. I would have never signed the lease,” said Sanders.

“I think they should put notices out,” said Rosario.

“Someone could get hurt. Someone could get killed if the sinkhole opened up,” said attorney Kirk Eason.

He says landlords  not the HOA -- are required by law to tell tenants about sinkhole activity in individual units, but disclosure requirements are not as clear if the problem is elsewhere in the complex.

In those instances Eason thinks it’s more of an ethical obligation for the landlord and the HOA.

“It's just like if you knew there was a leaky gas pipe, even though it's not in your unit, but you know if it exploded it would affect your unit, I’d probably err on the side of disclosure on that,” Eason said.

Eason says renters should report suspected sinkhole activity in their unit to landlords immediately.

If it's verified and not corrected,  that can be grounds to terminate a lease.

Records show multiple Manhattan Palms tenants reported sinkholes to the county.

At least two residents who received section 8 vouchers from the Tampa Housing Authority moved out after their units failed inspections.

We reached out to that landlord, but he didn’t call us back.

"Not everybody can just up and afford to pay to relocate,” said Sanders.

Eason says landlords who fail to disclose safety issues can be ordered to pay relocation expenses and even legal fees if renters prevail in court.

“There are options for tenants. I would never say a tenant is stuck, especially when they're having an issue with safety,” said Eason.

“I had to come up with money I didn't have, but I feel safer at night sleeping knowing that I’m not going to wake up and my front door's six feet above me,” said Rosario.

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, contact us at adam@abcactionnews.com.